Faces of Need - and Hope
When Eric Kirkes' grandparents brought him to Sunshine Acres Children's Home in northeast Mesa, he was, by his own description, a "forlorn, friendless, helpless" 9-year-old. They had taken him in three years earlier, rescuing him from a miserable existence with a mother he loved but who was mired in a downward spiral of drugs and alcohol.
"My grandparents, my angels on Earth," had done their best, said Eric, but he was consumed by loneliness and despair. When he asked, "Where's Mommy," he was told, after a long silence, that "She is on a long vacation, Eric."
After three frustrating years, he and his grandparents knew he needed a change. "I was put in the car and was driven into the horizon," he wrote recently in an essay. "Nothing appeared but the yellow, four-worded sign. Sunshine Acres Children's Home.
"Those four words have created the young man I am today. I never imagined at the age of 9, Sunshine Acres Children's Home would have such significance to me."
Today Eric is a freshman at the University of Chicago. He was awarded a full-ride QuestBridge Scholarship on the basis of his good grades and the essay he submitted that chronicled his childhood, including the transformation that occurred during his years at Sunshine Acres, which is home to 70 children.
In the essay, Eric recalled that first day at Sunshine Acres. "Why would my grandparents bring me here? Did I do something bad to deserve this? Finally, we walked into a room and sat around a chestnut table. 'Would you like to come live here?' enters my ears.
"My worst dreams came true. I was about to be abandoned. Left alone. I look to my grandparents and see something peculiar in their eyes. Hope. As much as I want to scream 'NO!' and storm out of the room, I cannot bring myself to act out. As if I was on autopilot, (I said) 'Yeah... I mean yes. Yes, I would like to live here.'
"And that was it. No turning back now. A new experience happens to me every day since moving here. Meeting someone new. Going to a sports event. Communing with my peers. Sunshine Acres has blessed my life more than I ever imagined. It gave me the opportunity to change who I was into someone I wanted to be."
Eric still misses having a "normal" home where "two loving parents are waiting there for me" but accepts that coming to Sunshine Acres "was a part of my destiny" and that it is "the springboard to my success in life."
"I work and study hard to make my grandparents proud of the lost 6-year-old boy they took in. How can we make a difference if we are all the same? I am here to remind society the 'American Dream' truly does exist. 'You' is kind. 'You' is smart. 'You' is important. No one can hold you back."
To learn more about Sunshine Acres Children's Home, click HERE.
To contribute to the Mesa United Way Community Chest, which supports Sunshine Acres and 27 other assistance organizations in the Mesa area, click HERE.
For more Faces of Need - and Hope stories, click HERE.